Do Not Resuscitate

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Bedside nurses are busy people, what with patients at one end telling us to hurry up and get them another green Jello and management at the other end telling us to… just hurry up. (There’s a reason why nurses get bitchy and it’s not because they hate helping sick people.)

Nurses rarely have downtime, but when they do they like to pee or drink coffee. It was late into the wee hours of the night shift when, giddy with lack of sleep, the nurses held an impromptu klatch in the break room.

The average nurse is not chummy. She’s too busy hurrying! Or paranoid that a coworker will write her up. Nursing is less blue wall of silence than Stasi. It’s best to keep your mouth shut and keep a low profile. But that night was different.

There was present an unusual camaraderie and generosity of spirit. One of the nurses shared how she developed a latex allergy from wearing rubber gloves and realized the hard way that she couldn’t use condoms anymore. But the story that really had us on the floor was about a patient that crashed in the ICU.

Although the gentleman had a very poor prognosis his status was full-code. That means healthcare workers were legally and perhaps even ethically obligated to do everything to save his life, no matter how futile or expensive those efforts might be. For people who are stupid, let me make something clear — they can put you on every tube and machine in the hospital and, generally, none of it is going to fix whatever it is that is killing you.

While two nurses started CPR and the doctor and pharmacist were paged to the bedside, the man’s wife hovered anxiously in the background. She was agitated and shouting something into the chaos over and over again. A poet would advise you not to “go gentle into that good night,” but your spouse (and your nurse) might have other ideas. What was she shouting? “Honey, go toward the light!”

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